Liverpool’s grip at the summit of the Premier League was loosened with their away form continuing to act as kryptonite following a 1-0 defeat at Southampton.
The champions have gone three on the spin without victory, which will embolden Manchester United, Leicester City and the rest of the chasing pack.
Danny Ings’ nonchalant clip into the far corner two minutes after the opening whistle was enough to decide an encounter that Liverpool lionised the ball in, but failed to make life uncomfortable for Fraser Forster.
Alex McCarthy was missing between the sticks for the hosts following a positive Covid test, but his stand-in at St Mary’s only had to thwart a shot on target with 75 on the clock.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were exceptional out of possession, happy to cede the ball to the visitors and equal to every chance they tried to carve out.
From Kyle Walker-Peters diving ahead of Sadio Mane to deny Liverpool levelling matters 11 minutes in to Ibrahima Diallo outpacing the Senegal forward to halt an attacking offensive late in the second half, Southampton never allowed Jurgen Klopp’s side an inch.
Saints’ home record, the sixth-best in the division at kick off, will have caused apprehension after their rapid start.
They had previously shown a dexterity to be tireless defensively in such fixtures – as Manchester City would attest – and that proved to be the case on Monday night.
After Thiago ceded a free-kick that James Ward-Prowse stood over with the game in its infancy, which Ings so superbly converted, they were in command of the shape of the game.
Liverpool were chasers without causing much chaos or carving out certified problems for Forster.
And so Southampton, who had won 10 league games against reigning Premier League champions, extended that trend to leave Hasenhuttl on his knees and in tears at the final whistle.
Liverpool were forced into their longest wait for an attempt on target in a top-flight match since December 2015 and for all their deficiencies in defence – midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were the centre-back pairing – it is their offensive powers that have receded in recent weeks.
Hasenhuttl won’t be alone in reacting to the result and the underlying signs so emotively. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Brendan Rodgers will feel that a real race is on and that they really have a massive say in it.
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